Young YSU group tops Carlow

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU’s Cheick Traore, left, battles Carlow’s Swade Redman during the second half of the Penguins’ 109-56 win on Monday.

YOUNGSTOWN — With Youngstown State’s preseason being decimated due to a COVID-related shutdown, Penguins coach Jerrod Calhoun and his staff are looking for ways to work in their eight freshmen.

One such method is adding a few non-conference contests inbetween weekend series during Horizon League play. Enter Monday evening’s contest against Carlow University (NAIA) out of Pittsburgh as an example of how YSU can work in extra games to compensate for a lack of a full non-conference slate.

Four freshmen started alongside senior Michael Akuchie to guide the Penguins to a 109-56 victory at the Beeghly Center.

“I thought it was exactly what we wanted,” Calhoun said following the win. “We just wanted to pick up a game where all of our young kids can play meaningful minutes.

“These kids have been through the ringer, really for eight or nine months, so we wanted to create an opportunity where we would play three non-Division Is and a non-conference (Division I), and then we’d like to pick up another Division I game throughout the year to get to five non-conference games, which is what we’re allowed.”

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU freshman Alex Vargo rushes downcourt on a fast break during the first half against Carlow.

Something a bit different about Monday evening’s contest was the fact that a limited number of fans, the pep band, cheerleaders and most importantly, parents, were allowed to attend because it wasn’t a Horizon League game. YSU has previously hosted fans against Point Park and WVU Tech.

As of now, no spectators of any kind are permitted at conference matchups, per Horizon League rules.

“I think that’s really important,” Calhoun said. “These kids sacrificed so much with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and playing New Year’s Day and all the craziness we’ve done, so I was happy that parents were able to see their kids play as well.”

Several players didn’t see action, but Akuchie saw a good chunk of minutes in the first half and posted 16 points after having a rough weekend against Green Bay.

“I played Mike a little bit in the first half because Mike has been struggling,” Calhoun said. “Mike is a kid that really tries, sometimes overthinks, so I wanted to get his confidence going.”

Freshman Cheick Traore and Myles Hunter both started after seeing significant playing time against the Phoenix during YSU’s weekend back-to-back. Traore, a 6-foot-8 forward, hauled in 13 rebounds with eight points, and Hunter shot 3-of-5 from beyond the arc to end with 11 points.

The other two freshmen who started, William Dunn and Alex Vargo, scored 21 and 14 points, respectively. Senior Christian Bentley and redshirt freshman Kenny Ganley Jr. also hit double figures with 12 and 11 points each.

Calhoun liked what he saw.

“I thought our execution and our ball movement was really, really good,” he said. “I thought we had close to 20 assists, but we made some shots. I’ve said all along that this freshman class is really, really good.

“Probably better than they’ve shown, but under these circumstances, when you don’t get the amount of practice time that you usually get as an incoming freshman, we really didn’t work with them other than about three and a half weeks.”

Every Penguin who played scored, including freshman Carson Ryan out of Struthers, who scored his first collegiate points on a 3 midway through the second half, and ended with five points.

Overall, it was about giving everyone on the bench an opportunity to see the court.

“I teased him (Ryan), I said he better get an ice bath tomorrow because he hasn’t seen a ton of action,” Calhoun said. “But he and I have said, hey, just use this year as an extra year.

“He works really hard, he’s a scrappy kid, he’s not scared at all, and I thought he played really well tonight.”

The Celtics (0-1) did have a local connection within their season-opening loss, as Mathews grad Tyler Roscoe got the start for Carlow as a freshman and recorded nine points and four rebounds.

YSU (6-4, 2-4) will make the trip to Dayton this weekend for a back-to-back against league leader Wright State (7-2, 5-1) at the Nutter Center. The Penguins’ contest against the Raiders on Friday night will be nationally televised on ESPN2, with a 7 p.m. tip-off.


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